-=Chapter 3: On Christmas Day=-
"Merry Christmas, darling!" Lorna Dane brightly
said to Alex Summers.
X-Factor's plane was descending towards the North American
coast from its sub-orbital flight, so its pilots and passengers
could start thinking in terms of Eastern Standard Time, six
hours behind the time zone from which they had left, shortly
before 11 p.m. CET. They had not flown full thrust, wanting
to save on fuel, and now it was shortly after midnight on
Christmas Day 1997 on the East Coast.
"Merry Christmas, Lorna." Havok, the pilot, was
not really in a holiday mood. He had not slept well on the
last afternoon in Hamburg, and for much of the first half
of the flight there had been some distracting noises from
behind the door of the passenger compartment. "Couldn't
those two have been a little quieter?" he grumbled.
Polaris, who had just turned back to the book she was reading,
had not paid attention to the last remark. "What did
you just say, Alex?" Reasoning that Forge's sophisticated
computer guidance system really made the co-pilot redundant,
Lorna Dane had taken the opportunity to catch up on her academic
reading, something she preferred to do with music playing
from the headphone plugged into her left ear. Consequently
she had not noticed to the sounds emanating from the interior
of the plane behind her.
Alex Summers was about to repeat what he had said before,
but now he felt rather churlish to complain about Mystique
and Dr. Cooper enjoying themselves and said nothing. After
all, he had said he was going to fly the plane, so he shouldn't
really complain. And who knows, he might actually miss having
passengers during the second stage of the trip, from New York
to Alaska. That got him thinking of the impending visit to
his grandparents' home in Anchorage, where he would be meeting
his brother again. Not the best of years for the Summers family
was 1997, what with the disappearance of Cable in the supernatural
battle in Connecticut this July, and the subsequent crisis
of Scott's marriage.
Scott had taken the news very hard that his son Nathan had
been fused with his dark alter ego, Stryfe, to become the
super-powerful Monarch in another reality. In his grief he
took to visiting the grave of Nathan's mother, Madelyne, his
first wife. Brooding over her death and her son's disappearance,
he experienced a delayed reaction, all of a sudden the pent-up
remorse over leaving Maddy to found X-Factor and be reunited
with his first love, burst forth. For the longest time he
had dismissed Maddy from his thoughts, something that had
been made easier by learning that she had been Jean Grey's
clone and had died after striking a deal with a demon and
trying to kill her own son, now suddenly he became obsessed
with the woman who was so like and yet so unlike Jean. He
agonized over the question about how big his responsibility
was for putting a loving wife and mother on the slide that
turned her into the vicious Goblin Queen.
His dark brooding did not make living with him any easier
-- the shadow of Madelyne Pryor-Summers arose between Scott
and Jean, in more senses than one. For, as she once confessed
to Lorna, she now too was forced to look at what Scott had
done (at the time it happened, Scott and his friends had been
careful to keep his marriage and fatherhood a secret from
her). She began to wonder what kind of a person her husband
really was, if he could so completely abandon his wife and
child -- leaving them without protection in the face of enemies
who knew who he was, and even without leaving anything, such
as a phone number, that would have enabled Maddy to contact
him. This alienation and Scott's withdrawal into himself combined
to draw them apart. They began to sleep in separate rooms,
and for a while Scott even considered joining X-Factor, a
prospect Alex did not exactly relish.
Then came a moment of weakness, in which Scott sought solace
in the arms of Psylocke. Their teammates still wondered why
she had done it (that Scott would be at least physically attracted
to her was no mystery). Some thought that she had taken pity
on him, others that she had been responding to the more basic
urges and instincts of the body she had inherited from the
assassin Kwannon. Both participants of the affair soon regretted
it. The irony was of course that Betsy was to regret it more
than Scott, for Scott's marriage already was going through
a rocky patch when Jean discovered he had cheated on her,
but now the romance between Psylocke and Archangel also came
to a screeching halt. The air was rife with gossip, unkind
comments ('Scott can resist anything but temptation') and
rumors -- some of the more filthy-minded teammates even began
to suggest that Jean might already have taken her revenge
on Scott with Logan, who had been pining for her for years.
Scott and Jean finally resolved to make an attempt to save
their marriage, to go for professional counseling in the new
year, but, unluckily for Betsy, Warren happened to run across
Charlotte Jones the week he found out. And as he told her
of his pain, he discovered that his old feelings for her had
not entirely died. Now Warren was going to take her and her
son Timmy on a Christmas vacation, and was quite intent on
rekindling his romance with her, deciding that his involvement
with Betsy had been a transitory passion, and not a real relationship.
So Psylocke found herself at a loose end, at the moment.
Of course, under these circumstances Cyclops was simply too
preoccupied to be an effective leader to the team. This time
he realized it himself and stepped down voluntarily, leaving
his colleague Storm in sole command at first. Ororo for a
while considered to ask the Beast to cut short his stay with
the Avengers to help her, but then she decided to appoint
Rogue her deputy. Alex remembered how Raven had shown her
foster daughter's letter around, in which Rogue wrote in a
mixture of pride and amusement how Ororo had told her: "I
think you're ready for leadership now. As you've been a bit
of a headache for Scott and me this past year, going to Magneto
behind our back and generally doing what you wanted, maybe
it is time for you to look at the problems of discipline from
the other side. See how you do with the shoe on the other
foot." Actually the events of the preceding year had
served to make Storm and Rogue grow closer.
The door at the back of the cockpit opened, and through it
stepped Valerie Cooper and Mystique. Val's hair had a rather
disheveled look and she looked somewhat hot and damp, while
Raven looked as impeccable as only a shapechanger with supernormal
control of many bodily functions can.
"Merry Christmas, you two," Valerie offered, quickly
joined by Raven.
"Merry Christmas," Lorna wished them back.
"Merry Christmas," said Alex and could not resist
to add: "Guess you've already seen to it that you got
a good start for happy holidays?"
Valerie was a little embarrassed, but Raven was unfazed and
grinned: "Well, heavy making out is a good therapy for
a headaches and a sure way to prevent motion sickness. Said
so in Cosmo, so it must be true."
Everybody laughed, and Alex added: "I'll be sure to
remind Lorna of that the next time someone pilots us. So,
ladies, we'll be arriving at Xavier International Airport
in about 20 minutes."
It was still pitch black night when Havok and the three women
de-planed in the underground hangar complex. They were met
by Rogue, who was wearing a warm overcoat over her nightgown.
The X-Factorites had arrived earlier than expected, but as
soon as she heard the aircraft's roar, Rogue had flown to
welcome the guests and show them to their rooms. The others
were all asleep, only Dani Moonstar was still up, on duty
in the communications center (which the more military minded
-- such as Forge and Wolverine -- insisted on calling the
"Hope y'all had a good flight," she said, yawning
profusely. "Sorry, bin a busy day. Alex 'n' Lorna, y'all
go in the left door, the Darkhölme-Cooper party is to the
After seeing that Havok and Polaris had everything for their
stop-over night, she joined Val and Raven for a quick look
in Irene's room. The newly arrived parents were impatient
to see their daughter. The little girl was fast asleep in
her bed. They would have to wait until the morning.
In the meantime, Rogue sat down with the other two and filled
them in about some recent events at the Mansion and the Academy,
and in particular about her young sister's progress in learning
to speak. Irene was slowly learning to form words with more
than one syllable, but she persisted in addressing her siblings
Rogue and Kurt as 'woa' and 'goor'. Valerie and Ray also had
things to relate, but after half an hour Rogue decreed that
it was time for everybody to go to their beds.
Then she did something totally unexpected. She kissed Mystique
And nothing happened.
"Whu--?!" was all that came over Raven's lips.
Val was not appreciably more articulate: "How--?!"
Rogue grinned contentedly. "Mah li'l Christmas surprise.
Magnus and me have been training for half a year now, an'
with some help from Emma Frost an' Psylocke we finally licked
the problem of me controllin' mah powers. Ah was gonna keep
it a secret until the mornin', but then ah couldn't resist.
An' ah wanted you t'be the first t'know."
"Child, I'm so happy for you," whispered Raven.
As if in a daze, she put her arms around the girl she had
chosen as her daughter.
Years ago, when Mystique still was the leader of the 'Brotherhood
of Evil Mutants', Rogue had left her foster family to seek
help because she could not control her powers and was driven
almost insane by living with two personalities -- her own,
and the one she had permanently absorbed from Carol Danvers.
She joined the X-Men and there found a new purpose in life,
even got some measure of relief for her mental problem, but
ironically neither Professor Xavier nor the X-Men discovered
a way for her to overcome the main problem that had caused
her to ask them for help. The trouble with her double personality
became better and worse over the years, until they were finally
solved more or less accidentally, after she passed through
the Siege Perilous and the two personas were reincarnated
in two separate bodies ('Carol' then almost succeeded in killing
Rogue, but luckily Magneto suddenly appeared and saved her).
After that Rogue had been preoccupied with other things and
lost sight of her goal of controlling her powers. It was a
hectic time during which there was always some crisis or other
in which the X-Men were involved, to say nothing of her romance
with Gambit. For Rémy thought it suited his purposes if Rogue
believed there was no way for her to control her powers (it
eroded her self-confidence, and when she said to him: "How
can ah ever love you, really love you, if ah can't trust you?",
he could counter with "An' how can I ever love you, if
I can't touch you?" to sidestep the question of his deliberately
keeping her in the dark about his dark secrets, even though
she was almost driven insane by the subconscious glimpses
she had absorbed from him in their first and only kiss). But
after Onslaught they finally had time to spare to address
her problems, and Magneto was much more intent on helping
her find one than any of her teammates ever had been. Elizabeth
then suddenly remembered that Rogue, while under the control
of her 'Carol' persona, had once touched her bare back with
her bare hand with no ill effect, which indicated that the
reason she could not control her powers was psychological.
Professor X, who had lost his telepathic powers in the Onslaught
crisis, was unable to help her, but luckily Psylocke and the
White Queen could. But perhaps the main thing had been the
fact that living with Magnus -- who could counteract her absorbing
power by building up a biomagnetic field -- had helped her
overcome her obsessive fear of being 'incurable.'
All this flashed before Rogue's mental eye, and not a little
of it through the minds of Raven and Valerie. There were tears
of joy in Raven's and Rogue's eyes at this moment they had
been waiting for ever since Rogue had kissed Cody Robbins
so many years ago.
Their emotions were contagious -- Valerie's eyes became misty
and at last she cleared her throat and piped up: "Hey,
no fair, I want a good-night kiss too!"
"I'm sorry, 'dad'," said Rogue, pulling Val into
her and Raven's embrace and kissing her on the cheek. "But
try and act surprised when I announce it to the others in
Christmas used to be one of those occasions when the Waltons-like
aspects of the X-Men came to full bloom, but this year it
was evident that Charles Xavier's 'family' was going through
some changes. For instance, the two students who in the eyes
of most were seen as his favorites, the ones who to him were
as his children, were not only away, but on different coasts.
As Scott and Jean's marriage had run aground in the fall,
they did not spend the holidays together. Scott was in Anchorage
with his grandparents, while Jean was at her parents' home
Other X-people, such as Hank McCoy, Betsy Braddock and the
Guthries also had left to be with their families, while Emma
Frost was celebrating Christmas in Snow Valley with most of
Generation X and Bobby Drake. Afterwards, Jono and Angelo
would be accompanying Everett to his family home in St. Louis.
Gambit had set out on a voyage of self-discovery and to take
care of unfinished business after he had finally, and not
too soon, come clean to his teammates about his sinister past.
If it hadn't been for the inrush of visitors from X-Factor
and Excalibur, the Mansion would have been a very empty place.
Of the original five X-Men only Warren was present. Storm,
the current sole leader of the team, was holding the fort,
and so were Bishop (who had nowhere else to go), Rogue, Professor
X and Dani Moonstar.
On the other hand, Irene Cooper was at the Mansion, and as
the only child present she was automatically at the center
of attention for the festivities. Once she woke, her parents
took her downstairs to the parlor room, where the Christmas
tree had been set up. The stockings hanging above the fireplace
soon had the undivided attention of the blue-skinned, strawberry
blonde little girl. Of course everyone had a present for her,
but in spite of the huge pile of gifts she also was most determined
to get at the Dresden china coffee-cups her foster-sister
got from Valerie. But they simply were too delicate and fragile.
"Isn't it always the way," said Dani, "you
always want what you can't have."
"At least when you're a little child," said Ororo.
Everyone was busy unwrapping presents and looking at everybody
else's. Accustomed to real candles from his childhood, Kurt
sniffed at the electric tree-lights, causing the older X-Men
present to exchange amused glances -- that was one of the
Yuletide complaints from their German former teammate they
remembered only too well from the old days. They loved him
Irene's presence also was the reason that more carols were
sung this year than in 1996. She loved to hear her extended
family sing, and at times even joined in herself. Although
her language skills were still far from perfect, she had become
quite adept at recognizing tunes and at 'singing' them out
to indicate what song she wanted to hear from the grownups.
Somewhat incongruously Irene's fiat also added the Maoz
Tsur, Frère Jacques and Row, Row, Row Your Boat
to this year's recitals.
After Rogue announced her success in learning to make skin-to-skin
contact without absorbing the other person's memories and
powers, and after everyone who wanted to tried it out themselves,
the morning became more relaxed. The Salem residents had lots
to talk about with their guests and each other, from politics
to private affairs, shared reminiscences and more personal
memories, speculations about what absent friends and old enemies
might be up to during the holidays. Val and Ray, as usual,
discussed movies they had seen recently, while Ororo and others
asked Kurt and Amanda if they had already chosen a name for
the child they were expecting.
Charles Xavier sat by the window in his hover-chair, talking
with Magneto. He congratulated him on his, Emma's and Betsy's
success with Rogue. "I really wish I could have helped
too," he said, "but unfortunately our dark sides
prevented that, old friend."
Magnus tried to comfort him: "You did what you could,
Charles, and she appreciates that."
"Did I really?" Xavier wondered. "Then I'm
not so sure if I can take that as much of a consolation."
His smile was a little sad. "It wouldn't be the first
time you saw my efforts as ineffectual."
Magnus had to smile at that, too. They had had their fights
in the past, but they seemed less important these days. When
the X-Men had started, it seemed that every young mutant was
either a follower of Xavier or of himself, but these days
the younger ones seemed to be less pliable, more intent to
find their own way. Charles saw it with his X-Men -- especially
the later recruits, but even some of the original five no
longer followed him unquestioningly. And he saw it with Rogue,
who even though she loved him deeply, was determined to be
her own woman and do what she thought was right. Hmm, whatever
Mystique's failings were as Rogue's surrogate mother, she
had not raised her to be anyone's sheep. Maybe he should mention
that the next time he talked with Raven alone. She'd enjoy
Xavier went on: "She came to me for help, and yet there
always seemed to be something I found more urgent than thinking
of ways to help her. First there was the mystery of Madelyne
Pryor, then Rachel appeared, we had to heal Roberto and Rahne
and Piotr. And we could not have done that without Rogue..."
"Hey, Prof, ya had to set priorities." Rogue had
silently come up towards the two from behind, something she
could not have done if Professor X still had his psionic powers.
"An' it was mah own fault -- maybe if'n ah had kvetched
'bout mah problem more ya would have put a bigger effort into
solvin' it. But those were real emergencies ya were talkin'
Xavier raised an eyebrow. 'Kvetched'? Was this an effect
of Rogue living with Magneto or was her residence in the New
York region finally beginning to tell?
"An' ah had different priorities mahself, such as gettin'
the others t'accept me, an' there ya were way ahead ot 'em."
She put her ungloved hand on his.
He mused. Getting accepted? That was only part of it. In
her first few weeks as an X-Man, she had endured terrible
pain, risked lasting injury and being killed for people she
barely knew and who were openly hostile to her. But it was
very much like her not to make a big deal of that.
"'Sides, who says a cure was possible then, with me
'n' Carol always at each others' throats in m' mind? Rachel
once tried it, but even with her powers boosted by the Beyonder
she couldn't. Ah reckon it was only once ah made peace with
Carol that ah had a chance, but by that time ya were in outer
space with the Starjammers." She sighed. "An' if
it's any consolation, ah could live with havin' t' wear gloves
most of the time, leastways until ah became interested in
Magnus an' later Rémy..." She walked over to Magneto
and pecked him on the cheek before walking off to another
group: "...and finally in Magnus again."
Lorna Dane was a little sorry that Bobby Drake, who in younger
years had had a big crush on her, was not there. Hearing from
Warren about Bobby's recent interest in the former White Queen
however became a great pretext for virtually everyone to gossip
about his love-life. Which, in spite of some people's reservations
about Emma Frost, was a more pleasant subject than that of
Lorna's 'in-laws'. But she and Alex could not tarry overlong
and had to leave shortly after breakfast to take off on the
second leg of their flight.
Pete Wisdom used seeing them off as a pretext to go outside
for a smoke (although he usually hated fresh air). Some time
back the Beast had declared the Mansion a smoke-free zone,
and the resident non-smokers were only too glad to enforce
that policy against the chain-smoking English mutant ex-secret
agent. When he came back in, he grumbled about being allowed
to light up "not even one bleedin' fag" inside to
Kitty, who however (rather pointedly, he felt,) reminded him
that there was a small child in the room. Still, she did cheer
him up by promising to take him to Harry's Hideout tonight,
after Hanukkah celebrations, so he could enjoy a few pints
and a smoke in warm cosy surroundings and in her company.
"So, Pete," she added, "how have the X-Factor
guys been treating you?"
"Oh, not bad, but that's 'cos they're not as close to
you as some of the others. Now Storm and Charley, they've
been going over me and our relationship in great detail. Guess
they care about you, but it was a bit too much like an interrogation.
And I should know, havin' been to my share of them, on both
sides of the table."
Kitty smiled sympathetically. "Buck up, Pete, it's only
a few more days. I warned you that a lot of people here look
on me as a kind of younger sister or even daughter. At least
it's not as if I were a Guthrie. Can you imagine what it would
be like if Sam was my elder brother? Cause I don't think he'd
be too happy if Paige started dating someone like you!"
Pete Wisdom could imagine too well. He had never told her,
but when he and Kitty started getting serious about each other,
the male members of Excalibur had once taken him aside and
threatened to do all sorts of unspeakable things to him if
he hurt her.
"Well, Kitty, at least you don't seem to've kept any
other psychopathic ex-boyfriends in your old locker here,"
he quipped, alluding to the time Colossus had come within
an inch of killing him in a fit of jealous madness. After
being subdued and undergoing therapy the giant Russian finally
learned to accept Kitty's choice. But it was a terrible time
for everyone: Piotr had opened the back door to the dark recesses
of his mind and soul and had been horrified to discover what
he was capable of, Peter was confronted with his mortality,
and Kitty, besides worrying if her lover would survive, was
reminded in the most unpleasant way imaginable that she had
not known Colossus as well as she thought she had.
So it was hardly surprising that both Pete's and Kitty's
smiles were a bit forced. But luckily they discovered that
they were standing under the mistletoe and soon were kissing
as if there was no tomorrow.
Late in the afternoon, they all assembled around the big
table in the dining room for the big Christmas dinner. Professor
Xavier sitting at the head said grace and then set about carving
the turkey. Most of the seventeen at the table partook of
the bird, although some preferred Ororo's vegetarian option,
a spicy mushroom dish. And a few had a little bit of both.
The two youngest guests sat near the head of the table, Irene
on a raised chair next to her mother (she was primarily interested
in the applesauce), and Timmy Jones on Charles Xavier's right
hand. His mother, a detective with the NYPD, could not be
there, as she had been saddled with the Christmas late shift.
But in a couple of days she, Warren and Timmy would go on
a vacation together. Years ago, when Warren had first started
dating Charlotte Jones, Timmy's grandmother had been unhappy
that her son's widow was going out with Warren, whose family
was as WASP as it got. But Timmy had liked his mother's new
admirer and had defended him with the words: "He's not
a black man or a white man, he's a blue man." And as
luck would have it, he now sat where most blueskins at the
long table were clustered: Warren sat next to him, and across
the linen, china and flowers he could see Irene Cooper and
Lockheed was perched on Kitty's shoulder, with his tail curled
around the back of her neck. Every now and then she handed
a morsel to Lockheed, while conversing with her neighbors
Bishop and Wanda, two of the people she knew least about.
She talked mostly with the former XSE operative from the future,
as the Scarlet Witch was a lot more busy on her other side,
talking with Raven Darhhölme, and her own father. At the bottom
of the table sat Storm, with Dani and Magnus on her left and
right. She raised her glass and offered a toast: "To
There were a lot of them to remember: Scott, Alex and Lorna
in Alaska, the other party in Snow Valley, Logan somewhere
in the Great White North, Hank in the Midwest, Rachel, Sean,
Moira and Rahne on Muir Island, Betsy and the remaining members
of Excalibur in Braddock Manor, and so on. Looking across
the length of the table at Charles, Ororo saw a far away look
in his eyes -- he probably was thinking of his consort, Majestrix
Lilandra, painfully aware that he could no longer contact
her telepathically. Storm herself thought of Forge, whom she
had invited to spend the holidays in Westchester, but who
said it was more important for him to stay in Washington with
the X-Factor skeleton crew. As if it wouldn't have been easier
to bring them with him so they could take off from New York
in an emergency. She felt a tear coming on. Did this mean
it was finally over between them?
Raven was relaxed as she always was, at least on the outside.
Under her foster-daughter's eyes she made pleasant conversation
with Magneto and Wanda Maximoff, cheerfully remarking that
since Magnus and her foster-daughter lived together, they
were now all family. A remark the Scarlet Witch took a while
to digest. Danielle Moonstar gave Rogue tips on how to run
a super-team, giving her the advantage of her experiences
as co-leader of the New Mutants. On Rogue's left, Pete Wisdom
listened incredulously to an assortment of horror stories
Illyana told him about her former roommate Kitty.
Finally, over desserts, Magneto proposed another toast: "To
Charles's dream. We may not always agree on how much of it
will ever become a reality, and we may sometimes fight over
the best road to get there..." he looked along the table
and back -- at Raven, the former terrorist and now government
agent, at Wanda, the government-sanctioned superheroine, Bishop,
the paramilitary from the future, at Valerie Cooper, the politician,
at Warren, who once has sworn by covert operations and hidden
agendas, and at the other X-Men at the table, who belonged
to a group that for all the changing climate still basically
operated illegally -- before lifting his glass to the man
who for decades had been his other, different self, Charles
Xavier: "... but it was and is a dream worth having,
and a dream worth fighting for."
Concluded in the Epilogue
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